When I was in first grade, we made paper plate versions of Christopher Columbus’ face. And every year of elementary school we did the same thing. Christopher Columbus out of toilet paper rolls, Christopher Columbus out of popsicle sticks. Not once did they ever teach us that this man we were immortalizing in sloppy cardboard crafts was a racist, who oppressed the Native people. We were told he founded our country and we celebrated him. I am now in 9th grade, and only now do I have a history class that goes into detail about the racist acts of history and why they were wrong. And this is a shock to me as someone living in a diverse California town. Where was this class all those years we learned about Columbus? As a Vietnamese American, I knew about racism at a young age from my family, but what about my classmates? Why is it taboo to talk about racism directly but it clearly exists? I shudder when I imagine children in less diverse places, who may not have the opportunity to encounter any peers who look different from them, let alone learn about how to address racism when it occurs. Instances like this are why racism continues to run rampant in our society. We can remain hopeful for a better future, because there is a remedy. A remedy for racism is to redesign our mandatory history and social studies curriculums across schools, and to support and train teachers to be able to discuss racism with the future of our country: the children.
A redesign in the mandatory social studies classes and teacher training can help equip children of all ages, and teachers, with the resources they need to think about racism. Ideally, we could have social studies courses that expose racist figures and acts in history and explain why these acts and figures were wrong, instead of glossing over them, and trying to make things more palatable for white people. The reality is, you can’t phase out racism in history. It’s always been there. Let’s teach children of its negativity and help them learn to identify it, so they will feel comfortable talking about it and asking questions. That was something I wished my classmates and I had when we were younger, instead of only being introduced to it now, in high school. Acknowledging racism and discussing it makes white people uncomfortable. But with this new system, even if parents refuse to tell their kids about racism, a mandatory anti-racism curriculum infused with normal social studies will teach even the most sheltered children. And a new teacher training approach would help the teachers feel equipped to teach this new curriculum to their students. This reform in education, once standardized, could help reach all children in America.
If we did decide to implement this new educational reform, there would be several actions we could take. The first one, which is the root of a lot of problems in our educational systems, is to fairly compensate teachers for the extremely important role they play in our society. Teachers are integral to creating a safer, less racist environment for children. The second most important step would be to redesign teacher training programs around the nation, so that teachers can feel equipped to teach children about racism and to identify when it happens outside and inside the classroom. To give this some perspective, I once had a teacher who put all of the Asian kids in our class (which consisted of me and two of my friends) in one table. We all joked that it was funny that she separated all the tables into kids who looked alike. But in reality, it wasn’t that funny. It was subtly racist. She could have turned the instance into a teachable moment, but she didn’t. And if she was better equipped to think and teach about racism, she probably could have. Change in education will ultimately be up to the teachers. Another key way to implement this new anti-racism curriculum is to adapt universal history textbooks that can be used by children all across the country that would not only stop glorifying racist figures, but would also stop to point out when historical events are racist and why what happened is wrong in more detail. With these tactics, children and teachers all over America will not shy away from the topic and instead empower us all to overcome this disease.
Let’s heal America, starting in the history classroom. Racism has plagued us for centuries but it can end. Teach us, the children, because we are the future. And together, through improved history education for educators and young children, we can end racism.